Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Each week, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
339.9 — yards allowed per game by the Vikings in Mike Zimmer’s first season.
Considering how the Vikings fared defensively a year ago and all the new faces that forced them to bring in, it seemed unlikely that Zimmer, their first-year coach, would be able to take the Vikings from 31st in the NFL in total defense to a top-10 unit. But with a strong finish these final two games, he might just do it. The Vikings enter Week 16 tied for 11th in the league in total defense, allowing 339.9 yards per game (last season the Vikings allowed 397.6 yards per game). They are just 43 total yards behind the Chargers, who rank ninth. So that top-10 ranking is very much in reach.
17 — pass break-ups for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, tied for fourth in the NFL.
Rhodes played well against the Lions, particularly star wide-out Calvin Johnson, but for the first time in a while, the second-year corner didn’t get his hands on the ball. It was his first game without a pass break-up since October, snapping a streak of five straight games with at least one. Still, he has broken up at least one pass in nine of his last 11 games, giving him 17 total pass break-ups this season. That ranks fourth in the NFL behind Bradley Fletcher of the Eagles, Vontae Davis of the Colts and Buster Skrine of the Browns. And it’s more than double the next Vikings player on the list.
75.6 — quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s accuracy percentage in his first season.
Accuracy was considered to be one of Bridgewater’s biggest assets coming out of college, and so far in the NFL, he has usually been on target, too. The rookie ranks seventh in accuracy percentage, a stat from Pro Football Focus that accounts for things such as dropped passes and throwaways, unlike raw completion percentage. They say Bridgewater has been accurate on 75.6 percent of his throws, just ahead of guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. And since Week 9, only Drew Brees and Joe Flacco have been more accurate.
seven — total sacks allowed by Vikings offensive linemen in the past five weeks.
Since the Week 10 bye week, the Vikings offensive line has allowed 52 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which is tied for 18th in the NFL. That’s actually a significant improvement for that banged-up group. In the first 10 weeks of the season, they surrendered 118 total pressures, third most in the league. The difference is about three fewer pressures per game. Not all pressures are created equally, of course. In those first nine games, offensive linemen were responsible for 24 sacks, according to PFF. Over the past five, the linemen were at fault for only seven sacks.
minus-59 — the Vikings’ point differential in their five divisional games in 2014.
I wrote in today’s paper about the Vikings falling to 0-5 against their NFC North rivals. They kept things close in rematches against the Packers and Lions, but overall, they have been outscored, 120-61, in their five divisional games this season. That’s a point differential of minus-59 in the division. The Vikings, meanwhile, are 6-3 against teams not in their division, outscoring those teams by a combined 39 points. They play their final NFC North game in the season finale. Considering how the dysfunctional Bears are playing, the Vikings probably shouldn’t be 0-fer for much longer.
Every Tuesday, we’ll analyze the Vikings draft chances for the 2015 NFL Draft
The Vikings minuscule playoff chances vanished before they even took the field last week. The Rams lost to the Cardinals last Thursday, wiping away the Vikings’ only (long shot) scenario of stealing the sixth seed.
Now that we can officially stop mentioning playoffs in this blog, the Vikings sit at 6-8 after losing 16-14 to the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday. Here’s how it impacted their draft spot if the season ended today with record, strength of schedule tiebreaker (if necessary) and upcoming opponent listed in parentheses:
The Vikings still hold the 11th overall pick if the season ended despite the loss. They’re guaranteed a top 20 draft at this point, but they can’t pick no higher than seventh with two games remaining.
What will favor the Vikings at the end of the season will be their strength of schedule, the first tiebreaker to determine the draft order. They currently have the fifth lowest strength of schedule percentage among teams currently holding a top 20 pick. It’s not expected to change much given that the Vikings have played four teams with winning records — the Lions, Packers, Patriots and Bills. Their next two opponents, the Dolphins and Bears, sit at 7-7 and 5-9.
So here are your draft scenarios if the Vikings win or lose in Miami:
If the Vikings lose: They’d pick no worse than 16th heading into the season finale next week against the Bears. That could drop even lower depending on how Week 16 plays out.
If the Vikings win: It gets a little tricky. With one game separating the Falcons, who hold the No. 7 right now, and the Rams, who have the 12th pick, it’s difficult to predict what would be the Vikings’ best pick scenario. What is certain though is if the Vikings win and the Falcons, Giants, Bears and Panthers all lose (which is certainly possible), the Vikings will not have a shot at a top 10 pick.
So you might want to keep an eye on those four teams over the weekend if you’re hoping for a Vikings top 10 pick in 2015.
Chad Greenway has been selected as the Vikings’ Community Man of the Year for 2014.
Since joining the Vikings in 2006, the outside linebacker has volunteered with several local organizations, including Memorial Blood Centers, Sanford Health, University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, Fuel Up To Play 60, The Salvation Army, Taste of the NFL, United Way and Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota.
In 2009, Greenway and his wife, Jenni, started the Lead The Way Foundation to provide seriously ill and physically challenged children throughout the Twin Cities “with daily support and life-changing experiences.” Since its inception, Greenway’s foundation has raised more than $1.3 million.
Greenway is one of 32 NFL team representatives vying for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. The winner will be named at the Super Bowl.
This is the second time Greenway has been selected as the Vikings’ Community Man of the Year. He also won the award in 2011.
Yesterday, Greenway was named as a finalist for the inaugural NFL Sportsmanship Award.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings are still looking for their first NFC North win of the season.
— Coach Mike Zimmer is glad QB Teddy Bridgewater is learning on the fly.
— The NFLPA is officially suing the NFL on RB Adrian Peterson’s behalf.
— LT Matt Kalil fared better against the Lions the second time around.
— OLB Chad Greenway is up for the NFL’s new sportsmanship award.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) December 15, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Dolphins coach Joe Philbin’s future in Miami is in serious doubt.
— Philbin says he is only concerned with the Vikings, not his future.
— Miami’s playoff hopes have dwindled with back-to-back losses.
— The Dolphins opened up their passing game in their latest loss.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
It’s Tuesday, so Vikings players have the day off. They’ll be back in the building tomorrow.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Rookie wide receivers are making an impact across the league, and it’s not just first-rounders like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. Mid-round picks such as Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant have made some plays, too. The Vikings, despite having 10 picks, did not take a wide receiver. The position wasn’t a major need, but it was one of the deepest receiver classes in recent memory.
Once quarterback Matt Cassel was placed on injured reserve three games into the year, the Vikings season was mainly about the growth of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and how he adjusted to the NFL.
He jumped into the mix faster than anticipated with Cassel’s foot injury, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is saying that Bridgewater’s on-the-job training will benefit the quarterback, the offense and the organization down the road.
“I really think you learn best from playing,” Zimmer said. “That’s what I believe, and I’m glad that he’s playing. …What I was nervous about at the beginning of the year was I didn’t want to get him beat up, I didn’t want to get him gun-shy, I didn’t want to get him a bunch of bad outings where he didn’t have the confidence and that attitude that he was going to do the things that he’s doing.”
Another concern Zimmer had with Bridgewater making his first start four games into his career was his health. The Vikings have gradually lost three starting offensive linemen and shuffled around at every position except left tackle Matt Kalil, who has been inconsistent, and center John Sullivan.
Bridgewater is tied with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the eighth most sacks taken in the NFL this season with 32. Zimmer believes the protection has improved as of late with Bridgewater sacked a combined six times against a good Jets and Lions defensive line.
“I’m glad that we’re keeping him upright,” Zimmer said. “You can think back, and I know it’s just my belief, you think back on some of the quarterbacks that have had to play as rookies or been playing as rookies and got the heck beat out of them and they haven’t made it. So that was the most important thing to me to start this season is that we take care of him and when it’s time, it’s time.”
It’s evident Bridgewater has made gradual strides over the course of this season, with many learning experiences along the way in 10 career starts. The latest occurred in a 16-14 loss to the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, when the Vikings offense couldn’t score in the second half and missed out on two opportunities in the final four minutes to take the lead.
“I think in the long run his playing and going through all these experiences and getting a chance to play against Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit will be a big factor for us in the future because he’s been through these things now,” Zimmer said. “It’s not new. If he wasn’t playing, that fourth quarter[against the Lions], the things that happened in the ballgame, maybe next year we’re in the same boat and he’s learning from it then as opposed to learning from it now.”
|Philadelphia||12/20/14 3:30 PM|
|San Diego||12/20/14 7:25 PM|
|Minnesota||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Detroit||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Kansas City||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|New England||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Giants||12/21/14 3:05 PM|
|Buffalo||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Indianapolis||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Seattle||12/21/14 7:30 PM|
|Denver||12/22/14 7:30 PM|
|Case Western Reserve||65||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||69|
|Central Penn College||65||FINAL|
|William & Mary||86|
|Fla Gulf Coast||83|
|South Dakota St||53||FINAL|
|Nevada||12/20/14 10:00 AM|
|Utah State||12/20/14 1:20 PM|
|(23) Utah||12/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Western Mich||12/20/14 4:45 PM|
|South Alabama||12/20/14 8:15 PM|
|BYU||12/22/14 1:00 PM|
|Marshall||12/23/14 5:00 PM|
|Navy||12/23/14 8:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Central Mich||12/24/14 11:00 AM|
|Fresno State||12/24/14 7:00 PM|
|Illinois||12/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Rutgers||12/26/14 3:30 PM|
|NC State||12/26/14 7:00 PM|
|East Tenn St||48||FINAL|
|Fla Gulf Coast||69|
|(6) North Carolina||65||FINAL|
|Long Beach St||85|
|Miss Valley St||39||FINAL|
|(16) Oregon State||71||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||62|
|No Dakota State||79||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||86|
|Utah Valley U||44||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||45|